Ghostingby David Poyer
Dr. Jack Scales, a prominent neurosurgeon, is at the peak of his career. To celebrate, he decides to make up for lost time and buys a sailing yacht christened Slow Dance, for a family cruise to Bermuda. But the family is strained: Jack's wife Arlen is secretly considering leaving the marriage; Rick, their bipolar twenty-year-old son, may need to be committed to a… See more details below
Dr. Jack Scales, a prominent neurosurgeon, is at the peak of his career. To celebrate, he decides to make up for lost time and buys a sailing yacht christened Slow Dance, for a family cruise to Bermuda. But the family is strained: Jack's wife Arlen is secretly considering leaving the marriage; Rick, their bipolar twenty-year-old son, may need to be committed to a group home; Haley, a rebellious teenager, would rather be anywhere but trapped on a boat with her family; and Jack himself is not prepared for the challenge of the open sea.
Day by day, the Scales face mounting dangers. A lightning storm nearly destroys the boat, Rick's unstable condition worsens, and both Arlen and Haley realize that Jack is in over his head. Still, emerging from the storm, they find a fragile unity…until a man adrift on a raft leads them into danger against a terrifying gang of smugglers, who will stop at nothing to gain control of Slow Dance.
Filled with an expert seaman's knowledge and driven by conflicted characters, Ghosting is a new direction for an established author: a thrilling adventure as unpredictable as the sea itself.
“Poyer draws on his nautical expertise to create a thrilling and disturbing portrait of what people will do when they have nothing else to lose. This dynamic sea thriller casts plot twists, conflict, and fear into the dark waves of uncertainty and will appeal to fans of Charles Williams’s Dead Calm.”—Library Journal
“Heart of Darkness meets The Perfect Storm. A jolting and darkly disturbing morality play of a family’s fight for survival on the high seas. Packs the punch of a Category Five. Never for one second could I put this one down!” —Andrew Gross, New York Times bestselling author of Reckless
“Plenty of angst, anger, and adventure, told with freshness and tension, from a master craftsman. Ghosting has it all: danger, treachery, action. David Poyer knows the sea. I’ve been reading him for nearly twenty years and he just keeps getting better and better”—Steve Berry, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Vendetta
“A story so real, so visceral, and so chilling…[does] for sailing enthusiasts what Jaws did to beachgoers.”—Virginia Living
“Poyer holds back no punches… heart-pounding…a taut yarn that could cause you to keep your mooring lines permanently cleated at their dock. —Outlook by the Bay magazine
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The clubhouse had looked out over Manhassatt Bay for a hundred years. Accent lights in the boxwoods picked out a half-timbered Tudor second story over a glass first floor. Above the slate roof, nearly erased by the sky-glow above Long Island Sound, glittered the stars. The clang of halyards tolled from hundreds of anchored boats. On the wide veranda, on the long pier, and on the teak deck of a gleaming new sloop, men and women raised flutes of champagne.
"To Doctor John Scales," said a gray-haired man in a club blazer. "May he be as successful navigating the sea, as he has been exploring the brain."
"To Doctor Scales."
An angular man with a receding hairline lifted his glass in the cockpit. He turned to a blond woman who sat at his side, long legs crossed under a white linen shift. "And my lovely Arlen, the inspiration for it all."
"To Arlen," the crowd echoed.
"And Ric and Haley."
"Ric and Haley," they called across the water.
Sitting farther down the pier, a raven-haired teenaged girl and an older boy who looked like a younger version of the man being honored, smiled dutifully as the adults shouted at them to pick up their glasses.
A heavyset man in a paisley silk Forzieri ascot cleared his throat. "To Slow Dance. May she take you far, in perfect comfort."
Jack Scales swirled his champagne and looked at his boat. Her mast towered amid the blurry stars above a central cockpit outfitted with digital displays. The teak deck gleamed in the pierside lights. Every part of her was crafted of the most carefully chosen materials: stainless steel, bronze, anodized aluminum, imported woods. She had electric winches and furling, a supercharged diesel auxiliary, a bow thruster to maneuver her in close quarters. Davits cradled an inflatable dinghy at the stern.
He lifted his glass. "May I be as good a captain as she deserves."
Arlen Scales watched Jack admiring his boat, and shivered. May, but the wind was still cold. She uncrossed her legs, annoyed as the salesman eyed them. The man had hung around for days, even taken them to dinner. Jack had kept trying to involve her. Should we put the master cabin aft or up forward? Do we want blue and white, or earth tones? It's your boat, she'd said. This is your idea. You know how sick I get at sea. She touched her right ankle, the gold chain winking in the dim light. She'd known Jack would never notice. And he hadn't.
She got up abruptly, and let herself down the curved stairs of the companionway, into the wide main cabin.
A panoramic window showcased the bay, the homes on the sloping hills, the lights of the boats bobbing in the dark. The salon was Italian-designed, and every piece of woodwork was hand-rubbed. After discussing it to death with the sales rep, he'd gone for blue and white, light wood, and put the master cabin aft. She strolled that way and stiffened; cocked an ear. She cracked the door to find a young couple tussling and giggling on the huge curved bed. Not her son or daughter, anyway. They didn't notice her and she eased it closed again, torn between amusement and annoyance.
She refilled her champagne glass with chilled water from the gleaming stainless refrigerator in the gleaming stainless galley. She was standing by the counter that divided galley from salon when the cupped ear of the dorade vent above channeled a voice from the pier. One of the junior partners; they'd been introduced, but she didn't remember his name.
"Did you see his Porsche? He's got that three-million-dollar house, out on the Point? This is just the kind of boat he'd buy."
"It's nice. Well, maybe a little glitzy." A woman's voice.
"Try, the kind of boat a guy buys when he's got more money than sense. As we say in Alabama."
Arlen stood biting off little sips. It was a pretty boat. Unfortunately, even the slight rocking as it lay alongside the pier, in this sheltered bay, was making her queasy. It would be much worse at sea, even with the prescription. She felt dread, but pushed it under, like a puppy she had to drown. He'd begged her to go, and finally she'd agreed to. It would be fun, he said, a family event they'd talk about for years.
She sank onto the settee, and again fingered the gold that circled her ankle. Yes, she thought. We'll see.
When they got back, she'd tell him about Farvad.
"Of course it's commercial," Sterling Baird was telling Jack on the veranda. He wasn't drinking champagne, but Bud out of a can. This contrasted with his ascot. Dr. Baird was the president of Epicentre Health. A large man, with Tip O'Neill's shock of white hair and Rudy Giuliani's ruthlessness, he'd made his associates wealthy. "We'll make money, don't worry about that. We threw a potload at the lobbyists, and I wasn't sure we were ever coming out. But you earned that bonus. She's a beaut. Tell me again where you're going."
"Sure, you said that. Your dream sail."
"For the family. Payback for all those missed nights."
"Yeah, a dream vacation." Baird waved at someone behind Jack. "When's the last time?"
"Last time what?"
"That you did a family trip."
"A jaunt to the Grand Canyon when the kids were little. Back when I was at Hopkins. Rented a big old RV and drove all over." Jack glanced at the boat, hardly able to keep his eyes off her.
"They're almost grown. Ric and Haley."
"Yeah, this'll probably be our last outing as a family. We'll take a week sailing down, spend a couple weeks in Tucker's Town, another week back. That'll leave time for me to get back in the groove before the certification."
Baird's big hand fell warm on his shoulder. "Get all that out of your mind, Jack. Enjoy yourself. Then we'll hit the ground running, when you get back."
Sitting with her brother on the pier, Haley had her earbuds in. Disturbed, "Land of Confusion." She and her brother had hung around just enough so Dad wouldn't get mad, but it was boring as hell. All the people from the lab. All they talked about was money, either from their creepy surgical robots, or buying little hospitals so the big ones could take their business. "You men of power," she sang soundlessly to herself. "Losing control, by the hour."
That line reminded her of her brother, and she opened her eyes. He was sitting picking splinters out of the dock. She reached over and shook him. "Ric."
He flinched, and lifted the black tube to the puckered scar in his throat. The electrolarynx was the only way he could talk. He kept it around his neck most of the time, hanging on a cord, or else in his pocket. "What," he said in that creepy monotone, like a machine.
"You doing okay?"
"Yeah, I'm okay. Quit asking every couple minutes, huh?"
She told herself, Back off. He didn't need more pressure. Not with Dad pushing him to go to premed. As if.
She went to Linkin Park's "Faint," and closed her eyes. She'd wanted to go to Quebec, spend the summer with her boyfriend. But Dad had said no, they had to go on some fucking cruise. For Ric, if you could believe that. Well, then, can Jules come, she'd said. And he'd said no, it was just for the family. Unbelievable! Not only wouldn't she get to see Jules, she'd miss the summer swimming program at Orlando. Which would probably mean she wouldn't make the Junior Nationals.
It sucked ass. Just to go to stupid Bermuda on a stupid boat. She turned up the volume until there was nothing in her head but the music.
"Present time," called Baird jovially. He held up a gold-foil-wrapped gift box. "Hard to think of anything Jack Scales really needs, but let's see what we can do. This is from all of us, Jack, everyone at Epicentre. Use it ‚Äòin good health.' "
Chuckles; that was the company motto. Jack looked for Arlen, but didn't see her. He looked for Haley and Ric, but they were still sitting on the pier. They never wanted to participate. . . . He tore off the foil to reveal a mahogany case. Inside was a complicated device of brass, mirrors, verniers, etched engraved scales. It read london 1912. "It's beautiful," he said. "Thanks so much. I might even try it, out there." Everyone laughed as he carefully set the antique sextant back into its fitted felt.
The table was loaded. A lot of liquor. Sailing flags, various gag gifts. Jack held each up and said something funny. He ran out of quips, though, when he came to a large pack of bright green and yellow fabric wrapped in transparent plastic. "What the hell's this, Mel? My golden parachute?"
"That's a three-quarter-ounce ghosting chute, Jack."
"No, seriously. What is it?"
Mel Daniels, one of the partners, explained it was a very light, asymmetrically cut genoa, crafted for cruising in such light airs a normal sail wouldn't draw. "Set it when it feels absolutely calm. Even when you think there's no wind, there's usually enough to keep you moving. You just have to have a very light, very large sail. Tricky to set, but you'll appreciate it when the time comes."
Jack said he thought that was what the diesel was for, and everyone laughed. "No, seriously—thanks, Mel. Now, I've got something for everyone, too." He pulled a tray out from under the table. "Arlen? Where's Arlen? Want to help me give these out, honey?" They were Leatherman belt tools, stainless combinations of knives, saws, and pliers in nylon sheaths. Each was engraved in cursive:
Slow Dance, Stamford—Jack, Arlen, Ric, and Haley Scales
Ric was walking along the edge of the pier, putting the toe of one tennis shoe after the heel of the other. Whenever he came to a piling he hesitated, then carefully stepped up on top of it, balanced, then stepped carefully down. The left foot. Always come down with the left foot.
He didn't feel dizzy or stiff with these new meds. His mouth didn't feel dry all the time. He could pee without pushing. And he didn't have those dreams, where the huge thing came down on him so utterly black. That alone was worth it, not seeing that every night. Or being so afraid to meet it he couldn't make his eyes close.
Best of all, they stopped the Voices. He only heard them once in a while now, soft, like people talking in another room with the door closed. He could whistle and drown them out. Shapiro said they'd go away for good, if he kept taking the blue pills.
The Voices had started the summer he turned fifteen. He never saw things, like some kids at the clinic. Only heard the Voices, telling him over and over again about the Eyes. The Eyes watched him. Because he was an Ear. He'd sit in school and stare at the board, not taking anything in because it was like a toilet flushing over and over inside his head, and every time he tried to have a thought the toilet would flush, and 'round and 'round and down it'd go. Of course his grades went to shit; that's all his parents noticed. All they cared about: his grades, getting into med school.
He'd started taking words apart. If you took them apart right, you could tell what the Eyes were doing. That was how he'd discovered who they were. They worked for something, or someone, called E-Z Ed. Or sometimes, he thought, EZD. Or ECD. Or maybe even, E Z Ded.
Which meant, he'd finally realized, Extrasensory Command Device.
The full horror of what they were doing had become clear. The Voices themselves worked for the Eyes. When they realized he knew what they were, they stopped pretending to be friendly. They told him he couldn't swallow. If you can't swallow, you can't eat. This was no joke. There was something in his throat, a valve, that they knew how to close. He had to open it, no, get it out before they stopped him from breathing, too.
The knives. The knives in the kitchen. It was hard because his thoughts kept circling the toilet.
His sister had found him gagging, bent over the sink, a seven-inch Cuisine de France santoku two inches into his throat.
But he was better now. Except for having to use the electrolarynx, of course. Dr. Shapiro had explained everything to him at Balsam House. He'd had a bad episode, but with medication he'd never have one that bad again. He still could have flare-ups, though, especially when he let himself get stressed out. He had to keep up his meds and control his thoughts. His mind was his own. He had to give names to the emotions he found so threatening.
He flinched. Someone was calling his name. His dad. Something about getting his present. Didn't he want his present? He pretended he didn't hear, and after a while his father stopped yelling.
Ric came to the bow line and stepped carefully over it. Noises were coming from down in the cabin. He looked down through a window and saw two people fighting on a bed. He stared. They looked like Japanese kanji figures. He fingered the scar at his throat. There were things on the bedcovers. They were moving. He couldn't tell what they were. Wait. Crabs? God, were they crabs? He squeezed his eyes shut. There couldn't be crabs in there. He had to act normal. Like they wanted. Like his dad wanted.
When he opened his eyes again, the figures were gone.
Jack was thinking about another scotch when an older man with a heavy, wind-reddened face and a gray brush cut took his arm. "Jack. A minute?"
His father-in-law, Torky Putney. Putney wasn't drunk, but he wasn't sober, either. "Sure, Torky. What can I do for you?"
"We step below? Just for a minute."
Jack humored him. Putney swung a worn green canvas bag into the cockpit, then stepped down after it. The sounds of the party faded as they descended the companionway. Putney glanced into the forward cabin, then bent to unzipper the bag.
Something black glistened inside it. Jack smelled mold and old grease. "Holy shit, Torky. What the hell's that?"
"Come home from Vietnam in my duffel. Be sure and practice, now. If you own a gun, better know how to use it. Manual's in here. Side pocket. Two magazines, twenty rounds each."
"Holy shit, Torky. I'm a neurosurgeon. Why would I need a gun? I, uh, appreciate the thought. Really do. But I don't think—"
"Pirates are back these days, Jack."
"We're going to Bermuda, Torky. Not Somalia."
"A man should be able to defend his family." Putney's green eyes nailed him, the steady evaluating gaze of an ex-Marine. "If you get busted, tell 'em I must've hidden it aboard. I'll take the heat. Where you gonna stow it?"
"I don't know—Torky, I don't need a gun. I don't want a gun."
"No arguing, Jack. Where?"
Finally he told him to put it in one of the drawers in the main salon. Putney left, moving heavily. Jack slid the drawer shut on the worn canvas, not quite believing this. He'd get out where it was deep, and drop it over the side.
He was back on the pier, talking to Mel Daniels, the one who'd given him the spinnaker, or jib, whatever the hell it was. Daniels was a dedicated sailor. Jack wondered if he should have asked his advice before he bought the boat. "So, what do you think of her?"
"Well, she's very elegant. Very comfortable below decks. I'd check the electrical grounding. Do that with any new boat. But . . . why exactly did you choose this model, Jack?"
"It's the top of the Dewoitine line. The best they make."
"Granted it's the most expensive. But why?"
Jack stared at him. "To sail to Bermuda. Why? Something wrong with it?"
"That's not what I meant. This would be a great boat for weekending on the Sound. Maybe, running up to Nantucket. But open ocean? It's not a passagemaker. Once those steps get wet you'll be going down 'em ass over teacups. And the center cockpit layout—"
Jack said sharply, "The brochure says it's a passagemaker. The salesman says it's a passagemaker. What makes you say it's not?"
Daniels looked away, made apologetic shapes with his hands. "It's not a bad boat. Just that, for offshore—"
"What did you mean about electrical grounding?"
Daniels looked relieved. "You ought to have it checked. I had a friend whose boat ran its battery down off Ocracoke because of a bad ground. Channel's so tight they didn't want to go in without an engine, but they couldn't start it without the battery. They had to stay out in sixty-knot winds for three days before it calmed enough to sail in."
"Well, we can call a tow. If it comes to that." Jack shrugged. "Anyway, we won't be alone. We're meeting up with another boat, out of the North Shore. Meet them outside, sail in company."
"What's the name?"
"That's them," Jack said. "They've done a lot of sailing."
He looked at his boat again. There was a guy on deck he didn't recognize. Older than anyone there except Baird, maybe even older than Baird. He was in tattered jeans and a faded blue dungaree shirt, bending furtively over an ice chest on the stern, reaching in. "Who's that?" Jack snapped.
"Where?" Daniels turned.
"There, on my boat." He raised his voice, and the guy jerked upright and looked their way guiltily. "Hey! You! What're you doing here?"
From Ghosting by David Poyer Copyright © 2010 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC
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